U fertility med center will close in summer

Parker Lemke

The University of Minnesota’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health is closing its Reproductive Medicine Center this summer, after three of its physicians announced their departure.
After more than 30 years in operation, the fertility service provider will close on June 30, redirecting its patients to other clinics in the area and leaving some staff members to search for jobs outside of the school.
“Upon learning of their decisions and looking at sort of both short-term needs and long-term goals, the decision was made to close the practice,” said Gail Kelly, the center’s site director.
Of the three physicians leaving, Dr. Mark Damario is moving to a private practice in St. Paul, while Dr. Phoebe Leonard is moving to one in Woodbury. The other, Dr. Bill Phipps, hasn’t yet decided his plans.
They were not readily available for comment. 
The decision to close the clinic came as a surprise to many, said Dr. Christopher De Jonge, an obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health professor and RMC’s senior director of laboratory operations.
De Jonge said it’s unusual to have three physicians leave a clinic at once, though factors like better pay and hours, along with less stress, can draw academic clinicians to private practice.
“The academic environment can be difficult and constraining,” De Jonge said.
For residents and medical students who want to do rotations in a fertility clinic setting once the center closes, the University plans to partner with an outside clinic to hold community-based training and mentoring, Kelly said.
She said it’s common for medical school students studying reproductive, endocrinology and infertility to move away from training at academic centers to community settings.
In a letter to patients, the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health’s chair Linda Carson wrote that care for those planning in vitro fertilization cycles before May 8 would not be affected and that the center would work with patients to transfer frozen embryos, oocytes, sperm or testicular tissue stored at the center to different facilities.
The center’s closing will leave a vacuum at the University, De Jonge said, and disrupt collaborative experiments RMC is involved in with centers across the U.S., like its research on ovarian tissue retrieval for fertility preservation.
“For a major academic University, there’s an absence, there is an association that is lost,” he said. “That’s very hard.”
Besides the physicians’ departures, Kelly said, the opening of a new reproductive medicine practice in Edina also factored into the closure.
“More competition will be coming to Minneapolis,” she said. “Obviously, that puts more stress and stuff on the ability to … hold tight to your market share and remain a viable practice.”
Kelly said though the center’s business has been healthy over the years, running such an intensive practice that involves unique facilities, like embryology
laboratories, brings a certain amount of pressure and stress on its own. 
She said the University department is making tentative plans to collaborate with the new center in Edina, which is set to open this summer.
Due to the surprise announcement and short time frame before the closure, De Jonge said, some of the center’s staff members are concerned about their future 
He said he’s not sure where he’ll work next. Whether it will be in a hospital or another industry setting, De Jonge said he doesn’t expect to fill a role similar to his current specialized job at the center. He said nationwide, there are only about 300 comparable positions.
Because of the limited market, De Jonge said he’ll have to expand his job search beyond reproductive health.
“I wear quite a few different types of hats, so that’s a positive for me,” De Jonge said.
Depending on their interests and qualifications, Kelly said the center’s staff members might be able to find positions at the University.
“For many of them, there are positions within the system,” she said. “We want to retain great employees.”
But the closure will still change services the school offers, which De Jonge said is disappointing.
“I feel very sad,” he said, “very sad for patients, for staff here and their families.”